A short distance from Vaughan’s super highways, megamalls and the massive roller-coasters (and parking lots) of Canada’s Wonderland sits the historic Village of Kleinburg.
In addition to being one of Canada’s wealthiest neighbourhoods (According to Canadian Business magazine, in 2010 the average net worth was $2.5 million), Kleinburg’s picturesque walking trails, rustic buildings and acclaimed McMichael Canadian Art Collection have prompted some to call it “The hidden jewel of Vaughan.”
“It is kind of hidden away, in this vast city called Vaughan, but it’s absolutely beautiful when you find it,” said Ward 1 councillor Marilyn Iafrate. “And you don’t have to drive 100 kilometres to get there.”
But, one word of advice — don’t call it a “hidden jewel” in front of its residents.
“Kleinburg’s only hidden if you want it to be,” snaps Antonietta Raviele, program coordinator for the Kleinburg-based Empowerment Through Achievement Vaughan Women’s Shelter.
“We’ve been asking the city for more attention for years,” she adds.
It would appear Raviele and village residents have had their wish fulfilled, as Kleinburg is currently in the midst of an economic development strategy spurred on by the city. It’s also experiencing a surge in residential development.
The city’s plans include a revitalization of the village’s main street, Islington Avenue, as well as encouraging development and marketing Kleinburg as an “outdoor recreation paradise.”
But change in Kleinburg is not always welcomed with open arms.
One of the questions is how to encourage intensification, which is required by the province’s Places To Grow Act, while retaining the character of the village.
Kleinburg was originally settled in 1848. It’s changed a lot since then, but still maintains an idyllic charm. The village has an eclectic mix of businesses, such as a rock store (of minerals, not music) and a vintage barbershop, but it lacks a convenience store. They are currently in the process of being connected to Lake Ontario water.
“Where can you really go in Vaughan and find a place like Kleinburg?” asks developer and resident Frank Greco.
“We have something unique and the question is how do we keep it that way?
“How do we evolve the village without losing our special character?”
Many in Kleinburg are asking the same question. Major developments are taking place to the north and south of the village, such as the 3,000 homes of Nashville Heights and more in Kleinburg Hills, currently under development at Major Mackenzie Drive and Highway 427.
But what worries residents even more is intensification in the village core, which falls within Vaughan’s Kleinburg-Nashville Heritage Conservation District.
“We get a lot more nervous when someone says they want to intensify in the village,” says Bob Klein, founder of the Kleinburg and Area Ratepayers’ Association.
Greco points to three vacant properties in the village core, one of which advertises itself as a great condominium site.
“If another builder comes around who doesn’t know anything about Kleinburg, they’re going to come build five-, six-, seven-storey condos,” he says.
That concerns Greco, who is quick to point out Kleinburg currently has no high-rise buildings. He wants to keep it that way.
“When there’s new development in an established neighbourhood like Kleinburg, there’s always a lot of apprehension…. Some people will tell you the province is forcing this development upon us,” he says.
Forced or not, intensification is unavoidable, says Iafrate.
“I know some people are kind of resistant to it, but it will go a long way to ensuring and sustaining the vibrancy of the community,” she said. “Because you need people. That’s the whole thing.”
But with more people comes more infrastructure. Currently, the northern swath of Major Mackenzie Drive is slated for expansion, with similar plans for Highway 27.
Apart from traffic concerns, Greco says this could hurt the village aesthetically.
“All of a sudden that nice rural drive through Teston Road won’t be so rural anymore,” he says. “And I think that worries a lot of people.”
In addition to attracting more people, the economic development strategy also aims to attract more commercial investment in Kleinburg. Small, independent businesses have sprouted in recent years, but by far the most controversial incident was the coming of Starbucks.
To Iafrate, the coming of the multinational chain was the start of revitalization for Kleinburg’s business core.
“You have no idea what it took us to get that Starbucks,” Iafrate says. “Because it was a historic home, we almost lost it twice.”
But it seems to be a success. On a sunny June afternoon, residents seemed right at home as they lazily sipped coffee on the shop’s patio.
Inside, the Starbucks is a strange hybrid of old and new. The shop is uniquely Kleinburg, with its redbrick fireplace and vintage wooden beams stretched along the ceiling, while still retaining Starbucks’ ubiquitous corporate layout.
“When Starbucks came in, people were like ‘What? You can’t bring Starbucks to Kleinburg,’” Greco recalls. “But they’ve been great for the village.”
And while the shop has added vibrancy to the business core, it also contributes to another problem facing Kleinburg (and all of Vaughan): traffic.
Many like to stop to grab a coffee on their way to Highway 400.
“Kleinburg seems to be, in a lot of cases, the shortest route to the highway,” Greco said. “So everyone’s driving through it.”
Iafrate predicts the extension of Highway 427 will help ease traffic in the area. But she also expects Kleinburg will still be a destination for years to come.
“People shouldn’t be going through Kleinburg,” she says. “But quite frankly, if they do go through there, it’s probably because they enjoy going through that little village so much and it relaxes them.
“That’s part of the problem — it’s so nice, you want to drive by,” she adds. “Even in your dump truck.”